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Before debating skills vs. equipment, please consider Risk Compensation

Discussion in 'Basic Scuba' started by Reg Braithwaite, Jan 14, 2009.

  1. GeorgeC

    GeorgeC Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey and Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    I think the human adaptation of ABS when compared to Airbags is different. Drivers do not get active feedback from airbags like that from ABS. When you break hard the pedal pulses. When you drive faster and faster your steering wheal does not bulge out further and further or your dash board swells.

    People may drive faster because of ABS but I don’t see the average person say “I will speed and let the airbag stop me”. The airbag is the last resort hopefully preventing death.

    Back to the pony question or insert your backup device (here). The bottle is actively in your way giving you constant feedback that it is there. You have to make a conscious decision to treat the pony like the airbag not the ABS. You know it is there like ABS but you want to use it like the airbag. Planning not to use it and diving that plan.
  2. novicediver

    novicediver Solo Diver

    Rick, I have read that book Deep Survival, and it makes some very valid points about human nature and risk perception.
  3. OneBrightGator

    OneBrightGator Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: St. Augustine, FL
    Very interesting thread.

    I think what it all boils down to (in diving, at least) is that a piece of gear or new training may change our perceived risk, actual risk or subject knowledge but will not change our fundamental risk tolerance. It will not make us safer, only a change in risk tolerance will do that.
  4. TSandM

    TSandM Missed and loved by many. Rest in Peace ScubaBoard Supporter

    Beautifully said, Ben.
  5. J.R.

    J.R. Divemaster

    I'd like to add a slightly different 'take' on the assumptions offered previously on this thread.

    There *seems* to be an assumption that risk taking is inherent... but I'm not convinced "risk taking" is the issue. I don't believe that most people are even aware of the inherent risks involved in their behaviors... products are marketed to promote their abilities and benefits... NOT their limitations and constraints. Failure to understand this other side of the coin means that products are often misused and negative consequences become an 'unanticipated result'...

    As an example... a number of years ago I bought my first 4WD truck. Now I understood what 4WD would do... and the basic physics of why it did it. I also understood the mantra that "4WD will help you GO... it will NOT help you stop." So far... so good...

    What I DID NOT understand was another wise concept that "you go IN in 2WD and get yourself OUT in 4WD"... my *almost complete* understanding almost got me terminally stuck as I went into a muddy area in 4WD and got bogged down.

    It wasn't that I was trying to be 'risky'... I went into 4WD to AVOID risk... unfortunately, the risk avoidance behavior actually created the exact negative situtaion I was trying to avoid in the first place... with no backup option available. (One could reasonably argue that the attempt to avoid the negative situation ended up creating a worse situation than if I had NOT tried to moderate the risk)...

    The "Law of Unanticipated Results" is always at play... if there is a sure way to creat risk it's by assuming that you have anticipated everything... even in the most conservative of behaviors it is a sure way to introduce risk...

    The introduction of the concept of 'risky behavior' is a misleading modifier to the problem... it serves insurance companies well because it establishes foundation for them to raise rates in an attempt to 'modify behaivor'... but, my understanding (limited as it is)... is that actual risk takers are less a risk to themselves than a non-risk takers simply because they are more inclined to be situationally aware of the risks inherent to what they do...

    Ignorance kills...
  6. bfw

    bfw Contributor

    Yes I have, a few years ago. The test subjects were NYC cab drivers, who were alternately given cabs with and without ABS, and researchers posed as fares and had hidden video cameras. Some cabbies denied they drove differently even when shown the videos. They drove faster and braked later, among other things.

    These things are not conscious. Your brain makes hundreds of risk calculations of which you are not aware. When making a left turn, for instance, your brain assesses the speed, density, and distance of oncoming traffic, and numerous other factors, and weighs them in a split second. If, in a given instance, some factor lowers the perceived risk, and you turn with oncoming traffic 20 ft. closer than you would turn in front of another day without that factor, you would not be aware of the difference in your decision calculus because it happens too fast for you to even consider.

    Risk compensation is well established science. It exists, everyone does it, and you're not a special exception.
  7. bfw

    bfw Contributor

    But they are aware of the airbag. Why do you think the technical standards for airbags is that they must be able to protect an UNBELTED driver? Because those writing the standards know that people are less likely to buckle up if they know they have an airbag. All the feedback does is makes it harder to hide ABS from the driver.
  8. bfw

    bfw Contributor

    It isn't, nor is there such an assumption. You're confusing the idea that every individual has a set risk tolerance with an inherent desire to take risks. Risks are faced when there's a benefit to be gained - seeing the pretty fishies, getting to work on time, etc. Everyone has a risk level they won't exceed, but when they see external factors lowering risk, they reduce their risk avoidance behaviors, which allows them to maximize the benefit attached to the risk, while those external factors "take up the slack" so they don't need to exceed their tolerance. So, with ABS, you can get home from work a little sooner, without facing what your internal risk assessment calculus sees as unacceptable risk.

    There's nothing sinister, immoral, or self-destructive about risk compensation. It's a simple process of optimization and budgeting, no different than choosing a more expensive restaurant for dinner because someone gave you the theater tickets for half price.

    People perceive a level of risk in almost everthing they do. They may perceive the risk to be trivial, and their perception may or may not be accurate.

    It's not a matter of trying to be risky. Having 4WD, in your view, reduced the risk of getting stuck. If you knew that it increased the risk, by allowing you to go to the limit of 4WD and then be REALLY stuck, you would have, in your own words, had a backup (like installing a winch) and thus engaged in further risk mitigating behavior than you did. Thus, this is an example of risk compensation. Going in in 2WD and coming out in 4WD is also a risk avoidance behavior, which you would have done if you'd known the actual level of risk, in which case your perceived level of risk would be higher than it was.

    You're confusing behavior with thoughts and intentions. A behavior may be inherently risky regardless of your intentions, or your awareness that it is risky.

    That can be true, but it's a classic example of risk compensation at work. The driver who stays under the speed limit perceives his risk to be lower, and compensates by being less alert. The speeder is more aware of his risk, and thus pays more attention. Both are adjusting their behavior to maximize benefit while keeping risk within their tolerance.
  9. bfw

    bfw Contributor

    And you've performed instrumented data collection on their driving? Honestly, do you even see the speedometer when they drive? Do you carry a rangefinder to measure the distance at which they start braking?

    People are not aware of how they adjust their driving - heck, most people aren't even that aware of their own driving.

    Anecdote != Data.
  10. bfw

    bfw Contributor

    Conscious decisions about dive locations aren't really risk compensation - risk compensation is more of an unconscious thing. A better example is checking your SPG less frequently when you have a pony bottle.

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